I grew up farming.

When I was a kid, I drove my parents crazy with my little “farmsteads.” I would gather rusty bits from the garage floor, out of the top crust of the dirt floor of the machine shed, or pilfered from the dregs of my dad’s scrap metal pile, which stretched along the wall in both directions outside the big doorway of the machine shed, where he would bring the tractors to change oil in the shade or the combine for blowing out the radiator,  and I would “build” homesteads and tiny cities.

All to both of their chagrin…I’m sure mom turned an ankle or two as a result of my digging in the old garage where she parked her car to protect it from frost in the wintertime. There was all sorts of crazy treasure buried in that dirt floor. My most memorable find looked like a connonball! And I recall Dad tripping over one of my creations near the back door one day as he hurried to the house to use the telephone, and I got in trouble for leaving a mess in the yard.

In my early years, I was witness to art under the guise of ingenuity and ambition in many forms.

Dad made just about anything he wanted to from metal or wood (including a gorgeous grandfather clock and several beautiful rocking horses), he grew beautiful crops, he’s a gifted hunter and fisherman, and he’s great with animals. The one thing I always remember and apply that he says is “You get out what you put in.” Likewise, Mom was always creating, but her media were a little different: the giant garden and its produce, her landscaping and flowers, the huge intricate counted cross-stitch scenes on which she was always working, and she was always stripping and refinishing furniture or building a piece for our house.

As I grew up, I was lucky to experience the range of activities and skills that our daily life entailed.

I spent hours in the shed with Dad, and I watched carefully when he worked with metal, but I never asked to try myself. I did little things like pump engine oil from a barrel into a quart jar and deliver it to him so he could pour it into the tractor, or back the tractor up to the equipment so he could hook it up from the ground, and I pulled him out of the mud many times in the field.  Mom would’ve killed him if she knew he was letting me pull…that was a big no-no in her book. As long as I was quiet and didn’t ask a lot of questions, he let me play and just be around him, which was a treat for us girls because as all farmers do, and even more so back in the day before weed prevention technology, he spent an inordinate amount of time on a tractor, working ground, planting and cultivating. We called working with Dad “family activities.” Working baby pigs, sorting cattle, laying out pipe for the traveling irrigation gun, and harvest time.

When Dad was in the field, we had plenty of chore responsibilities taking care of our sow herd and feeding fat steers, planting and caring for the garden, and preserving our food. During that time, Mom was our teacher. We could use a tractor and carry-all to move a sow with her litter of piglets without the assistance of Dad. We could blade out the hog barns with the little tractor without our parents around. We learned to deal with necessary death and not getting too emotionally close to our livestock. My sister and I grew up knowing independence, problem-solving, dealing with frustrations, pushing our body to the limit with the work, and the satisfaction of a job well done. When we were not working, we were usually exploring in the woods or on the road, riding our bikes. I would climb to the top of the oat crib and lie in the cool grain, or sit in the cool moss that grew on the ground on the north side of the grain bins, reading until Mom honked the car horn for me to come in.

We played sports, having been encouraged and coached by Mom. I branched away from FFA after my sophomore year of high school to include the arts and extra science in my extracurriculars. I was on yearbook staff, took creative writing in the summer, was Teacher’s Aide for the Human Anatomy and Physiology lab.

After high school, we both went on to get bachelors’ degrees in Agriculture, mine in Communications and my sister’s in Business. I played college volleyball, but only for a semester. I had qualified for an academic scholarship that took up the slack, so I wasn’t out any money, and I had so much more freedom. I took photography courses, learning technique and how to develop photos in a darkroom. I always had a job on top of my course load. I loved to write, and while completing my required semester on staff at Cowboy Journal (the magazine published by the College of Ag), I also served an internship with The Daily O’Collegian, OSU’s newspaper, where I covered the police beat and was always on call for important stories. There’s nothing like landing a big story at the top of the front page; I certainly felt the allure of doing that for a living.

After college, instead of landing a writing gig, I sought hands-on knowledge in agriculture and horticulture, which sent me on a path to my family farm, then a sales position with a horticultural wholesaler, then to Memphis TN as a greenhouse supervisor and later my own landscaping business; then back to the farm in SW MO to take over farm operations at my parents’ invitation.

I served a year in apprenticeship to my dad (during which I also worked ground for Linderhof Farms and raised heifers for FOCAL Dairy, a large local New Zealander-owned dairy) before he turned everything over (and I mean everything…I had to sign a lot of papers), leaving all the decision-making to Mom and I, and most of the work to me. I had my oldest daughter Creek a year later, and when she was about 6 months old, I began dreaming (during all my tractor time) about turning rusty farm junk into art. I started out making flowers and animals. I hadn’t welded since I was in high school ag shop class. I still have the little gate I made for the sow carryall back in 1994. Dad was not helpful to or supportive of my art. He thought it was a waste of time and refused to teach me to weld again. I fumbled around with the stick welder until I got the hang of it again and made my first flowers, animal sculptures and horse shoe art. My second year in charge of farm operations, I used Junkyard Farmgirl income for the entire down payment on my “new” planter, a used Kinze 3500 8-row with interplant rows. It was a sweet implement, speeding up planting time and having much better seed depth consistency. Dad and I never fought about the junk art after that, and ultimately he became supportive, even going so far as to tear out cool junk art pics from magazines and saving them for me, and he lets me know if he sees cool materials up for grabs.

As I began transforming metal trash into treasure and selling my art, I also began taking in other salvaged materials like windows, barn wood, tin and anything that I thought I could recycle. I rented booth space at junk shows in the region and did really well peddling my salvaged materials and art that way. I purchased a plasma cutter to make Jack o’lanterns from salvaged metal containers, and the plasma cutter became an integral part of the business. I used it to make luminaries, Jacks, and to cut art from rusty barn tin.

There was heightened interest from women wanting to learn to use power tools and to complete DIY projects, so when Creek was 6, in January 2016, I hosted my first workshop in the garage at my house. I had classes every week, sometimes cramming up to 30 ladies around the work tables in my garage. That first year of teaching workshops, my younger daughter, Cale, arrived just before soybean harvest in September. I was still grain farming full-time, Creek was attending public school, and I kept Cale with me, wearing her on my front most of the time. I wore her at the computer while doing vinyl layout, around the workshop doing everything from sanding to plasma cutting, during classes, feeding cattle in the snow on the farm and while doing housework. I taught my first welding and plasma cutting workshops with baby Cale strapped to my chest that spring and summer.

The following summer, in 2017, Mom and I decided to fold up our farming operation. As we finished our last corn and soybean harvest, I moved my studio and classroom into a building in my hometown of Jasper in anticipation of going full-time with my art. We had our equipment auction that December, and kept ahold of our farmland and our cattle. I had a great holiday season in my new studio in town, but we were looking for a long-term space, so the following spring I moved from there to nearby larger Lamar, and I began homeschooling Creek, which gave us so much more freedom to travel with the business. We have been open there since July 2018.

We were prevented from doing retail shows for the first half of 2020 because of COVID shutdowns, but I was invited to do my plasma cutting art Live at an outdoor event in southeast Iowa in October 2020, so I loaded my cutter, a bunch of vintage metal fuel cans and other containers, and a stack of barn tin in my box trailer and set up on the back porch at my friend’s little gift shop in Bonaparte, Iowa, as part of the Scenic Drive Festival, a regional event that spotlights 8 villages in rural Van Buren County.

That event changed the trajectory of my business. I made stellar customer connections at that event. Watching me make art was like water in the desert to people who had been cooped up for months during the pandemic lockdown. Folks lined up to watch me cut Jack o’lanterns, and I would shut down the generator to talk, check out customers, hand out business cards, and then start over again. It was difficult to keep up; everything I was making was selling. They watched, then they purchased what they had watched me create. I invited each person to go junkin’ and bring me back something to cut for them. They began arriving with watering cans, fuel cans, buckets…anything I could do a custom design on for them.

After that event, I decided I wanted more of that. I contacted Silver Dollar City by sending a general inquiry email about their Harvest Festival. A few weeks later, I received a reply that included an application for the 2021 Festival. A series of family health crises occurred in the following months made me shelve my SDC application. It just seemed it wasn’t in the cards.

In June, I got into creating Live feeds on social media of working on plasma cutting in my metal shop and listing my luminary products on my website. In August, I was doing regular Lives and was covered up in special orders for Jacks and luminaries. During our largest local event, the Lamar Fair, in late August, most of the businesses on the square are closed, but I remained open and brought my generator and plasma cutter to town to do Live Art behind the studio. I did live feed on social media while cutting kettles, teapots, fuel cans and old buckets. It was our biggest weekend of the year, and in the middle of it, I got an email from an event coordinator at Silver Dollar City. Someone who works there is a follower of my Facebook page, and she called the event staff and told them to tune into my live videos. They invited me to participate in the 2021 Harvest Festival, and asked if I could set up there in 3 weeks time.

What followed was a crazy, exhausting, wonderful fall.

The Harvest Festival was amazing. Those customer connections that I had felt in Iowa and was seeking more of is exactly what I got. We were so busy the entire time doing custom work for people. I was constantly cutting with my plasma cutter. It was hard to keep up. I would look up from cutting and find I had 30 people watching me. I would duck behind our curtain to shovel down a meal, guzzle a water, then get right back out there to work. The feedback from the event coordination staff warmed my heart: “I’ve never heard so much chatting about how amazing you were, from guests and employees to other crafters…you were definitely a crowd pleaser.”

The 2021 holiday season passed in a blur. January 2022 found me already creating products for quarter 4 and planning my setup at the 2022 Harvest Festival. In 2022, I set about minimizing my business in ways that allowed me to slow down the pace and only grow as I’m prepared for the next step. SDC Harvest Festival 2022 was phenomenal. I lived in a camper near Branson for two months with my girls and worked at The City. We had lots of repeat customers from the previous year and met so many new people.

At present, it’s March 2023 and we’re scheduled for The Junk Ranch in June and SDC Harvest Festival in the fall.

Interest in plasma cutting workshops is still increasing! I continue to teach others to use their own machine, and I love talking with people in person at live events about how to freehand with the plasma cutter.

My youtube channel inspires creators to make salvaged materials art with a plasma cutter. I make them believe they can do it too! I would love to be able to teach metal art year-round; however, I don’t have an all-weather shop YET, so I’m looking forward to my plasma cutting workshops scheduled for spring and summer.

I’m happiest in three places:

1. In my homestead workshops, creating my art. I want to continue to create art from salvaged materials and market it to the public.

2. Creating art live. There’s nothing like the delight on a customer’s face when I make something exactly how they want it, right there, on the spot.

3. In my junk shed or my studio with a few ladies, enjoying the child-like excitement you feel when you make something amazing all by yourself. Teaching women to create is very fulfilling.

My mission is to empower myself and others through salvaged materials art, and to delight others in my creations. I inspire folks to think outside the box, to use their hands, to learn to do new things, to see beauty in the broken, and to access the wildness in their creative side.

I’m happy to have you along for this beautiful messy ride!

Much obliged,

Angie, Junkyard Farmgirl

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